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As a supporter of President Obama and a Notre Dame alumna, my question is: What was accomplished by this graduation hijacking? A group of anti-abortion extremists from outside of the university used the graduation convocation as an event for staging protests against the president's position on abortion. Like a PETA stunt, this form of activism caused embarrassment and discomfort to its target and generated much media attention. But what, if anything, will be different once Randall Terry goes home?
At one point during my undergraduate years at Notre Dame, a professor shared his view that the university would be enhanced by a student body that included more agnostics and more Jews. He was critiquing the kind of group think that can develop when students from similar backgrounds come together for four years and create a community based in shared beliefs. Readily acknowledging the warmth, giftedness, and generosity of spirit that characterized his students, the professor nevertheless believed that the homogeneity of the student body was a limiting factor for the intellectual culture of the university. He maintained that dynamic creative and intellectual breakthroughs tend to be generated by young minds urgently grappling for new truths because they are challenged to do so.
The tasks involved in balancing the seeming polarities of Catholic character and academic freedom are at the heart of Notre Dame's mission as a top-flight American university. To honor and embrace a sitting president who exhibits a willingness to engage in non defensive, respectful debate on any issue would appear to be consistent, if not essential, to the university's integrity as a Catholic institution.
For the ND graduates of 2009, the graduation day shift in focus from their accomplishments to the sensationalism of bloodied dolls and paddy-wagons may seem like a loss. But if they claim their participation in the graduation ceremony as an exercise in their (now) alma mater's integrity, then this whole brouhaha can be understood as a meaningful event, even a triumph, the implications of which they can reflect on throughout their lives, long after Randall Terry drives home.
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